My home town and the surrounding area is ground zero for the biggest onshore natural gas exploration in the country right now, thanks to the Marsellus Shale formation. During my two trips back to my home town this past winter, I learned just how huge it is, and expressed my own sense that this is a good thing.
Then, I heard this story on NPR and I have started to have doubts. Of course, what has helped these doubts was the emergence of some facts between my January visit and March visit. In January, I heard about the prices some of these gas companies were willing to pay to lease farmland for drilling. As my father said, some of those Bradford County, PA farmers were happier than pigs in shit with the promised money.
Except, when I went back in March I learned that the pigs may have been happy, but the shit to roll in hadn't been forthcoming. Some of those farmers were offered tens of thousands of dollars to lease the land, plus royalties (yes, you read that correctly). Except that money hasn't been produced for many of those leases.
Now, it seems, it has become increasingly clear that the method used to get the gas out of the shale, hydraulic fracturing or "fracking", brings along with it a whole host of other problems. Since there has not been any serious study of the potential environmental or health impacts from fracking - even though there is enough anecdotal evidence to warrant such a study; tap water is burning! - a temporary halt (along with perhaps some of the money being paid to farmers and other land owners) might not be such a bad idea. I'm not saying that the drilling shouldn't take place. Perhaps until everyone involved learns what might be the results of current industry practices, and a careful consideration of alternatives is done, taking a breather might turn what could be a pretty standard boom-and-bust in to a long-term benefit for everyone.